July 29, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai
China has played a leading role in fostering development in Sierra Leone since 1971, when the two countries signed a communiqué heralding a unique fraternal diplomatic tie anchored on the values of mutual respect for “sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equity and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.”
At the macro level, both governments have always walked side-by-side in the complex world of international diplomacy, not least at the United Nations. At the micro level, the two peoples have exchanged several cultural and trade visits spanning forty-five years, while hundreds of Sierra Leonean students and businessmen and women have been attracted to China as the preferred destination for knowledge and business, with their Chinese counterparts heading westwards in numbers.
As a mark of recognition of Sierra Leone’s unflinching support for the Chinese cause, Beijing has reciprocated in a way unequalled by many other development partners.
In this Vox Pop, our reporter went to Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone, to gauge the views of students.
Annas Sesay, Final Year Student of Mass Communications and Sports Writer
“It’s actually a basic fact that the Chinese have contributed immensely to the socio-economic development of Sierra Leone,” he said and added that Sierra Leoneans have seen tangible development that the Chinese have done and are still doing in Sierra Leone.
He said the Chinese are always ready to come to the aid of Sierra Leone when the need arises, citing construction of hospitals, including the ultra-modern medical centre at Jui, outside Freetown.
“When I was doing my internship at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the government signed a MoU that they are going to build a five storey building that will house only the Ministry of Health and Sanitation officials. Also, during the Ebola outbreak, they donated medical equipment, new vehicles and ambulances which greatly helped us to reduce the outbreak and later got to zero case of infection,” he said.
He said in the area of education, the Chinese have been giving scholarships to many Sierra Leoneans, including those at the Peace and Conflict Department, Fourah Bay College, to study in China. He said the Chinese have established the Confucius Institute at Fourah Bay College, which has triggered a desire among students to learn the Chinese language and culture.
“I’ve also seen what they have done in the area of communication. They have been helping to strengthen our cyber security,” he said.
Ibrahim Allieu Kanu, Final Year Student of Mass Communications and Journalist at the Nationalist Newspaper
“Frankly speaking, the relationship between Sierra Leone and China has over the years being symbiotic. The Chinese have affected in all spheres of our society, ranging from infrastructure, education, governance, agriculture, health, among others,” he said.
He said, on the other hand, Sierra Leone has contributed to China’s political development. He disclosed that Dr. Solomon A.J. Pratt advocated for the Chinese to be reinstated into the Security Council of the United Nations.
“The Chinese constructed our National Stadium, the Youyi building, the Mange Bridge, among other infrastructural development. In terms of education, we have many doctors that were given scholarship to read medicine in China. In the area of media, we have many journalists every year that are given scholarship to study in China,” he said and added that even in the area of culture, the two countries have exchanged cultural ties.
He recalled that the Chinese were the first people that came to the rescue of Sierra Leoneans during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, helping us with finance, medical equipment and personnel, adding “we are very much grateful.”
Abdul Kassim Conteh, Final Year Student of Mass Communications
“The Chinese have done a lot in the development of Sierra Leone. I’m aware of the Confucius Institute here on campus and that has contributed to education and sharing of cultures. They have improved most of the roads in this country,” he said, citing the Regent-Grafton highway, expansion of the Wellington-Masiaka highway to dual carriage way, among other roads.
He re-echoed that the Chinese helped to eradicate Ebola from Sierra Leone, as they brought in Chinese medical experts that were very instrumental in the fight against Ebola.
“Educationally, they have been giving scholarships to study in China. I know of my colleague who has done his Master’s degree in China,’ he said.
Ambrose Kamara, Student of History and Politics
“The Chinese have contributed immensely to the development of Sierra Leone socially, educationally and infrastructural. I have seen the establishment of the Confucius Institute on FBC campus with aim of teaching and learning the Chinese language. I have benefited a lot from that,” he said, adding that he has gone to China and can speak mandarin – a major personal development stride.
“Imagine me, Ambrose Kamara speaking Chinese, it’s a blessing. I can now serve as an interpreter and I can be able to represent my country in international matters. The establishment of the Gouji investment at Cline Town [in Freetown] has created many jobs for Sierra Leoneans,” he said. He said he knows many Chinese at Gouji and he is sometimes contracted to translate and interpret for them.
“My experience in China was great because the Chinese are very hard working. I wish the friendship between Sierra Leone and China continues,” he said.
Sahid Sesay, Student, Final Honours I, Linguistic Unit and Language Studies Department
“The Chinese have contributed greatly to our country. We can see that there are good roads that can enhance the flow of transportation. They have created job opportunities and constructing building like the Foreign Affairs Ministry building,” he said, adding that our country is on the path of infrastructural transformation largely thanks to China.
He noted that the Chinese products have flooded our market and they have been helping the poor as those who cannot afford to buy expensive items from Europe and America can made do with affordable products from China.
He made reference to Chinese lights that are in use in many rural communities and even some urban areas of Sierra Leone, adding that in the past people used to use kerosene lamps which posed high risk of fire accidents.
Abdulai Kamara, Student of Peace and Conflict Studies
“The Chinese constructed the FBC Secondary School. We have a department also teaching us Chinese and that has helped us to be bilingual,” he said, adding that he can now fluently speak Chinese.
He asserted that students who have mandarin Chinese have employment opportunity with Chinese companies in the country.
“The Chinese are very hard working and I think Sierra Leoneans could learn from that also. In the medical sector, they have constructed the hospital at Jui,” he said, adding that there are many Chinese companies in Sierra Leone that have created a lot of jobs for young people.
He refuted claims that the Chinese are racists as some people claim, adding that he has being to China and was highly welcomed and accommodated. He said the only problem is the language barrier and that if you speak their language, you are their friend.
“Sierra Leoneans have a lot to learn from the Chinese especially in the area of hard work. They are not lazy people,” he concluded.